Guy Kewney's Diary

Monday:

The news appears to have broken: IBM's UK PC boss, Mike Lunch, has jumped ship. It can't really be described as a "surprise" in this sense; that something was obviously up when he suddenly stopped showing up at PC division brunch meetings. His colleagues said he was doing "AFI or advanced fulfillment initiative," but when asked whether this was a promotion, Mike said flatly: "No."

The reason he wasn't promoted, of course, was that he'd already resigned, as several sources hinted months back. And that leaves the question "Why?" unanswered.

Keeping in touch with ex-IBM staff isn't easy. They tend to behave as if they'd signed a cheque for their severance pay which has small print written on the back, saying something like: "I agree that if I say anything horrid about IBM in the next ten years, I will not only hand back all this money, but I'll enclose my reproductive organs in the envelope." Lunch, certainly, appears to have gone to ground; his predecessors are less shy, and gleefully spill the beans. In essence, they say, Mike was going to carry a can which was full of the sort of stuff you normally put on the rhubarb; having previously been lauded as some kind of hero for "turning the PC company round in the UK, he'd suddenly been given the job of accepting the blame for the channel stuffing.

Channel stuffing, for those of you who just use the things, is the habit IBM has of filling the shelves of its resellers with stuff that they can then describe as "total sales for the quarter" when Wharton or Romtech-GfK ask for statistics but which won't actually be sold for another six weeks at least.

According to my moles, the amount of stuff in the channel right now might be as much as another ten weeks' worth.

The irony, of course, is that Lunch is off to work in the channel for distributor Peter Rigby of SCC -- where he can now get stuffed by IBM. Poetic justice, say the other distributors...

We have, at last, finally cracked Death Match on Quake II on my PC. The problem turns out to be simple operator error. Me being the simple operator:

When you get Quake II on a CD, it's broken. "Everybody knows that!" say the hardened competition players. Well, they do, but I don't. So I download the patches which "everybody" knows about, and run the .EXE files. They update, pausing to ask if I want to over-write the files? I say yes. Then I run Quake II - no Death Match levels. That was the game I played all last week; this week, I notice that these .EXE files are not, after all, install wizards. No, the folks at ID Software are too cheap for install wizards; this is a shareware Winzip self-extractor, which dumps everything by default into c:/quake2, which is great, but it isn't going to do anything for my installation on d:\quake2 is it...

Bingo! Install the nice Power VR Apocalypse 5D card which Videologic has lent me. Install Gamespy. And off into the world of other people killing each other.

The nice servers are the ones where you can observe. You're invisible, and you can fly through the walls, and watch the other players shoot each other. Actually, this could become quite a spectator sport...

If you download look out for servers which automatically detect "camping." There's nothing quite as irritating as a Quake or Quake2 game where some idiot has pouched the rocket launcher, and then moved into the corner, and just shoots every unarmed player who materialises nearby. In these camping-detector servers, if you stay still for more than about five seconds, it just kills you...

My sister calls with a problem with her PC. My heart sinks...

Tuesday:

First attempt to phone Dixons to resolve my sister's broken PC problem. (See Kewney's World). I hate this sort of thing, writing about my own experiences rather than summarising trends as reported by you, my readers; but as James Bond was told: "First time is happenstance. Second time is coincidence. Third time is enemy action."

The first time, for me, was a dispute between myself and Dixons Mastercare over a simple video recorder. It simply never worked correctly, and spent more time inside their repair depot than under my telly. In the end, we junked it, three year extended warranty and all. I couldn't get them to replace it, even though it was, clearly, broken beyond repair on the day we got it.

These things can happen , of course.

Then last year, my Dad bought a PC for a retirement present. It arrived - from PC World - with a load of sheer crap on the hard disk; stuff that wasn't advertised, for which there was no documentation, and which was almost certainly pirate stuff put on the machine by the previous owner. No, it wasn't a second hand machine, not officially. Yes, eventually the manager of the store agreed with me that it needed to be replaced, and even gave me a bit of extra RAM to make up for the miles I travelled from London to Leeds, trying to fix the thing. Coincidence, and at least they responded. An unkind cynic might suggest that this was hardly surprising, given the fact that my Dad's name is the same as mine...

This final episode was just the last straw. It was a complaint from a reader - genuinely - but with the difference that I knew, personally, just how accurate every point of the complaint really was. And best of all, the customer was someone I trusted, and who had kept detailed records. But it goes against the grain to wash family linen in public.

It's also vastly disillusioning for me personally, because I was instrumental in persuading the founders of PC World to start the supermarket chain, which they subsequently sold to Dixons. It was Jan, the guy who ran High Voltage, a components-for-anoraks shop in Croydon, where he flogged hard disks, and serial chips and screens and bits and pieces, and who realised that he was being limited by the number of people who were prepared to join a queue. The queues were 100 long, some Saturdays. "Let them help themselves!" I said. They went for it.

In the six years since then, how is it they've failed to visit the Dell site? Have you seen "My Dell" -the place where you can drop in on the Web and see what your machine has in it, on it, and with it? When you call up, they know exactly who you are, and what to do about it. How clever does a business have to be to set up a simple phone logging system which picks up the incoming CLI of a customer, pops it into a database, digs out the record, and shows it to the agent answering? and the agent says: "Ah, Mr Jones! How's the new Pentium Two?"

Even my local pizza delivery shop does that. "Yes, we know your address, Mr Kewney!" just from taking the call. They even know my mobile phone number. Yet every time you call Dixons, they've never heard of you.

The evening is spent at St Katharine's Yacht Club, not with a bunch of sailing folk, but with a bunch of Lotus Notes users. They have a problem, which I think you can call the "police helicopter pilot" problem. You know, presumably, that the police started using helicopters over inner cities some years back, and (naturally) insisted that they be piloted by qualified police officers. The trouble is, it costs around £20,000 to train a helicopter pilot, and surprisingly few qualified police officers seem to feel they can afford this out of their pay.

So, the police force nominated some promising officers and trained them as pilots. Whereupon they accepted £100,000 a year jobs with helicopter taxi firms

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